MIKE JOHNSON - I started writing late in life. Age sixty four to be exact so I suppose that comes under the category: it’s never too late to learn! I’m English from the county of Yorkshire but moved to Spain in the year 2000. My writing career began after meeting other published author’s here on the Costa del Sol. My first novel; Dragon - written in long hand at first would you believe – was edited by my wife who I found was more than capable – and far less expensive – than the Publishers. The next two novels in the series; The Korean Connection and The Buddha in Ice followed soon after. It may be of interest to learn the wrap around front covers were designed by me, and illustrated by a local design company. You have no idea how cost effective that is for a first time writer self-publishing? In between these novels I began writing short stories: The Little Home on Wheels was one of them, but my readers wanted to know; what happened next? The story begins here in Spain in places I have visited and know well.
THE LETTER by Mike Johnson
Henry yawned and stretched his legs. The park bench he was sitting on was still damp from the recent rain.
‘But still better than that hard settee my daughter likes’ he said to himself then instantly feeling guilty at his lack of gratefulness.
Cindy had insisted her father should stay with them after his recent operation. Her husband had agreed but he wasn’t fooled. They didn’t like each other. His wife had accepted their son-in-law readily enough but he just couldn’t get on with the guy and that was that. After her death five years ago he had made various excuses not to visit but Cindy had been insistent this time. His two sons had agreed. He wasn’t fooled in that direction either. You could almost hear the sigh of relief in Kent where he lived.
‘You go up north and we’ll look after the house while you recuperate’ Charley had told him.
‘Go up north? Jesus you would think I was on my way to Iceland or somewhere. Up north for god’s sake. It’s only Manchester son’ I had growled.
Mind you anything north of London was up north as far as he was concerned. Down south was Brighton. Over there was anything to the west. I don’t think east ever came into it?
The pain in my hip was getting worse so I put the grumpiness down to that. I know they mean well and I may be seventy years old but I could still walk further than those two in a day. Well I could before the hip needed replacing.
He stretched his leg again and attempted the exercises the physio had shown him. That lasted almost two minutes before he stopped.
A young mother walking past was just about to smile and nod hello in greeting. The next second she was dragging her little daughter away and covering her eyes.
He was just about to stand up and explain he was only doing exercises but thought better of it. One more pervert in the park wasn’t going to make any difference.
The sun suddenly made an appearance. Rays of sunlight dappled the trees and highlighted the dew on the grass. A mist appeared as the sun warmed the ground. The autumn leaves that had piled up into nooks and crannies suddenly erupted as a gust of wind blew through the park.
Henry looked up and smiled. He opened his coat and breathed in the fresh air.
A dark cloud then blocked the sun. The leaves died. The mist turned to clinging dampness.
‘Shit that’s summer over and done with’ he moaned standing up and closing the coat again ‘Manchester? Who the hell wants to live in Manchester all their lives?’ he moaned again as his bad mood returned with a vengeance.
He stomped off almost collided with the little girl chasing after a ball. His hip gave a little spasm as he stopped suddenly. He was just about to berate the little she devil when he noticed the concerned look on her face.
‘Are you alright mister?’ she asked him.
It was such a sincere question his bad mood evaporated.
He smiled at her ‘Yes but thank you for asking. I’m getting old young lady and not as fit as I was’ he sighed.
‘Grandma says you are as fit as you feel and she should know’ was her solemn reply.
‘Well your Grandma is a very astute person’
‘What’s astute mean?’
Henry had grandchildren of his own and wasn’t going to get caught in the twenty questions trap ‘maybe you should ask Grandma?’ was his evasive reply.
‘Grandma what does astute mean?’ she shouted to the woman who appeared from around a tree.
‘Georgina will you please stop running off on your own and stop annoying this gentleman’ she scolded as she took the child’s hand ‘I do apologise my granddaughter takes after her mother I’m afraid’
Henry was just about to say it wasn’t a problem when something stopped him. He looked more closely at the woman. She was obviously in her later years but the vitality and energy she had for life shone through like a beacon. Her scarf had come loose so she casually flung it around her shoulders. She adjusted her woollen hat and pushed a lock of hair behind her ear.
Henry gasped and couldn’t believe his eyes.
The years fell away as the memories returned in torrents.
The woman noticed the intense scrutiny and was about to object when she too gasped and covered her mouth unable to believe it was him ‘Henry?’
‘Molly and Me’ - A Love Story.
I first met Molly when I was a Corporal Radio Fitter at Neatishead, a radar station in Norfolk. I lived, with other airmen in a small domestic block, separate from the main building, which housed the radar consoles and equipment forming what was known as a GCI Station. GCI was the acronym for Ground Control Interception. The various radar equipments were situated in the area around the main building and connected by cables to the radar consoles used by the controllers to direct fighter aircraft onto enemy targets.
The Cold War had not yet started and the station operated on weekdays from 9 till 5 and on two evenings. The personnel, who manned the equipment, came by bus from RAF Coltishall about ten miles away. Their trades were various and covered all the complexities of the task. There were Administrators, Telephonists, Radio Monitors, Tele printer operators. Controllers who were all officers, Radar Operators, and Plotters who moved symbols around on a large map of the area so that the Chief Controller had an overview of all that was taking place. All this was housed in a large building with no windows and thick blast proof walls designed for the purpose. There was a chain of these radar stations stretching from Scotland in the North, down the South Coast to Dorset in the West. They controlled RAF fighter aircraft from numerous bases in the UK. The RAF had many squadrons in those days. The fighters were Mosquitoes by night and Meteors by day.
‘My god Molly, is that really you?’ Henry asked still not believing his eyes or his ears. Molly had a distinctly high pitched voice which used to make him smile even on the darkest days.
Molly fumbled in her pockets and eventually managed to extract a paper tissue. She pretended to blow her nose but Henry wasn’t fooled. The love of his life couldn’t hide the tears in her eyes and never could?
‘Yes Henry it’s me what are you doing here?’
‘I’m staying at my daughters after a hip operation. She lives nearby. Do you live here as well?’ he asked quickly. The thought of her suddenly disappearing made him anxious.
‘No but my son does. These are his children’ she said suddenly realising they had wondered off again in search of mischief ‘I’d better collect them. It’s time we got back’ she said realising it was getting late.
‘Please Molly give me your telephone number or meet me tomorrow at least’ he pleaded.
Molly looked at her old suiter and smiled. The memories had flooded back for her also. The guilt she had for leaving him for another man also came back making her chest start aching.
A lot had happened in fifty years.
Was it worth digging all the memories up, good and bad in equal measure?
‘There’s a little café at the entrance to the park. Meet me there at ten o’clock tomorrow?’
‘I’ll be there I promise’ Henry instantly replied.
‘And I will be there this time as well Henry I promise’ she said making a point.
Henry’s daughter was on the point of calling for the doctor again but Henry told her not to be silly.
‘I’m not in pain just excited’ he told her as her paced the living room for the hundredth time that morning.
She was about to ask the same question she had been asking over and over again since yesterday but she knew no answer would be forthcoming. Whatever had got her father excited he wasn’t telling?
Henry sat down at the café at nine thirty just to make sure he wasn’t late. The next half an hour was agony. His imagination played havoc with his emotions. The thought of her not turning up was driving him crazy. When she entered through the door he almost upended the table in his rush to greet her.
‘What would you like to drink? Tea, Coffee or something stronger?’ he suggested.
‘Henry I have drank nothing stronger than a glass of cider in all my seventy years. Tea would be lovely’ she decided.
‘Tea it is then’ he sighed happily and rushing off to the counter.
She watched him as he ordered the tea. It may have been fifty years since they last met but it seemed like yesterday. He still had the little boy lost look about him. It had fooled many people into thinking he wasn’t intelligent or worldly. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
For the next hour they talked of things in general until eventually they got around to what was important.
‘My wife died five years ago Molly. I have two sons and a daughter. I love them but I can’t get on with my daughter’s husband at all. I won’t be sorry to be going home this weekend. At least I was?’ he said looking across the table then adding ‘I still love you Molly. I always did and always will. Is it too late for us to try again?’
It was out before he could stop himself and he instantly felt stupid in revealing his feelings. She had rejected him a long time ago so what could have changed since?
THE LETTER continued……
Most of the duties at the unit were performed by Waafs; the Women’s Royal Air Force. They wore skirts. Molly was a tee printer, small and very pretty with bright red hair. The only women who were on the base full time were those who manned (sic) the telephone exchange. There were few opportunities for those of us who lived on the base to become too friendly with the girls because they left at the end of the working day and I only knew Molly from chatting to her because the small tele-printer office was right next door to our radar workshop.
Sometime in the summer of 1948, someone organised a trip on the Broads for the entire unit sailing from Wroxham and having lunch at a waterside restaurant. For whatever reason, Molly attached herself to me and that was the start of our romance and courtship.
Meeting each other outside duty hour’s wasn’t easy and required some ingenuity but we managed and our romance flourished. Eventually we went on leave together and stayed with Molly’s mother in Sheffield and my mother and Aunt in Ilkeston. Few people had cars in those days and we went everywhere by bus and train. It was far more enjoyable than nowadays.
This idyllic situation continued until early in 1949 Molly received notice of an impending posting overseas (Military terminology for; abroad). What this meant was that at some point in the future we would be separated. We were very young and the idea of marriage didn’t seem to be a solution because Waafs were automatically discharged on marriage. In any case, we had no money and the idea of us trying to live together near wherever I might be stationed in rented accommodation was unattractive. But we decided to get engaged and I bought Molly a ring.
Eventually, the inevitable happened and Molly received her instructions to report to the RAF unit which prepared personnel for the overseas posting. Troopships were used in those days and Molly was destined for the Suez Canal Zone, so called because Britain maintained control of the Suez Canal at that time. She was granted what was called embarkation leave and I took leave with her. We weren’t exactly happy but there was nothing we could do except makes the best of it. In May, Molly sailed away on one of the Empress troopships bound for RAF Ismailia in the Canal Zone. By chance Molly’s sister was not far away. Married to an army NCO at Tel El Kabir; an ordnance depot. This, by an odd quirk was to be the reason why Molly and I split up. We corresponded every day. I soon realised that I should not have let her go and after much soul searching suggested that she should request a posting home so we could be married.
‘What happened to us Henry? Where we too cautious? Too frightened to take a chance? I would have married you before I left England you know that don’t you?’
‘We both liked the military life Molly but you are right. We should have looked passed all that and realised we had something special’
Molly nodded in agreement. It takes two to make a commitment like that and for some reason they hadn’t.
‘You seem to have a large family Molly? Tell me about them’ he asked trying to change the subject for a while.
‘John died quite a while back from cancer. Mercifully his illness was short. I have two daughters and one son. They all have children and are all grown up. The children in the park are my grandchildren. I’m the family babysitter but I love them all to bit’s’
‘My wife was exactly the opposite. Don’t get me wrong she loved her family but babysitting wasn’t her idea of fun’
‘Did you ever look back and imagine what it could have been like?’
‘That kind of thinking can make you very unhappy Henry. It’s in the past so let’s leave it there for now?’
THE LETTER continued….
Molly agreed and at my end I went through the process of arranging a wedding. This did not amount to much because until she actually arrived back in England it was not possible to think about details.
It was at this point that things went wrong. Molly’s letters stopped and I went through a miserable period lasting several weeks in which I was distraught. Eventually, the inevitable happened and I received a letter from Molly saying that she couldn’t go through with it. Naturally I was heartbroken but there was little I could do about it. We continued to correspond but her letters were written more out of conscience than affection.
In November of that year 1949, I was posted to the RAF in Germany. I had more or less got over my break with Molly and looked forward to a new phase in my air force experience.
And experience it was. Despite being a highly qualified and knowledgeable Radio Fitter, I was posted to an Equipment Depot in Hamburg where I became what amounted to being a bean counter, checking the inventories of radio vehicles. The only consolation was the fact we were housed in what had been Herman Goering’s Cigarette factory and life was very easy going with no parades or suchlike and Hamburg in that immediate post war period was an interesting place to be. Germany was still governed by the Allied Control Commission.
In the spring of 1950 Molly wrote to tell me that she was coming home and once I knew the approximate date of her arrival, I had arranged to go on home leave.
Timing worked out well and I arrived home and almost immediately went by train to meet her when the troopship docked. Everything went smoothly and she was given disembarkation leave which more or less coincided with my own. We took a train to Sheffield and stayed at her home. It was almost as if nothing had happened and we were resuming where we had left off. Later we went to my mother’s in Ilkeston and we seemed to be very happy together.
Molly’s leave had been for two weeks and at the end of this she had to report to a reception centre at RAF Hednesford to be told where her next posting would be. Here, disaster struck.
She became ill with a very severe throat infection and a fever and was admitted to the Medical Centre on the base. My leave was nearly over and I had to leave her theatre and start my journey back to my unit in Germany. She was eventually posted to a new unit and we continued to write to each other. As soon as I returned to my unit I took advantage of the right of every airman to request an interview with my Station Commander. I told him that as an experienced Radio Fitter, my talents were being wasted and could he get me a more appropriate posting. This he did but the air force in its wisdom took the word radio literally and I was posted to the radio section of RAF Gutersloh, a fighter base where I found myself dealing with aircraft radio equipment. This posting did not last long and in the next two years I was moved twice, firstly to a Mobile Radar Unit and secondly to a maintenance unit at RAF Fassberg where I was in charge of a workshop full of German workers who were modifying and servicing a variety of radio equipment’s. By the end of my tour in early 1952, I had volunteered for and been accepted for training as a pilot.
‘I return home this Saturday would you like to visit me?’ Henry asked.
His cup had been empty for quite a while but he gripped it tightly as he waited for her answer.
‘We’re not getting any younger Henry and I’m not a young girl any more. If my children had any say in it I would be kept indoors and tied to the couch. I may be getting on but everything is still in working order’ she answered almost laughing at the look on his face ‘so why not?’
‘Oh my goodness I hope you didn’t think I was trying to get you into bed or anything’ he stammered.
‘If I want you to get into bed with me I’ll let you know Henry OK?’ she grinned mischievously.
He couldn’t help smiling ‘still the same Molly’ he told her happily ‘what about transport by the way. I could arrange a taxi for you? Money is no object’
‘That’s very thoughtful but I have my bus and train pass. Actually the family are attending a wedding anniversary near where you live. I could ask my son to drop me off on the way home’ she said thinking out loud.
‘Won’t they be asking where you’re going?’
‘They can ask and I’ll tell them. More to the point they’ll be asking who I’m staying with. Is that a problem?’
‘Certainly not and the same goes for my children as well’
THE LETTER continued…
Molly meanwhile, reached the end of her three year service in the Waaf and returned to civvies street (sic). I took leave and on arriving home, went to see her in Sheffield. To my dismay, she wasn’t there. I discovered that she had gone to see her sister in army married quarters at Aldershot. I realised that something was wrong but sent her a telegram to say that I was coming to Aldershot to see her.
She met me from the train and seemed very happy to see me. I soon discovered the reason for her being there? Her brother-in-law had a colleague and a friend John Carpenter; also a Warrant Officer staying with him. Apparently with the encouragement of her sister, Molly had had some sort of relationship with him in the Canal Zone. This had been her reason for not coming home to be married. I stayed for a couple of days but decided to go home.
Molly arrived at Henry’s home two weeks later. They had kept in contact by telephone. Molly had suggested e-mails as well but discovered Henry didn’t have a computer. The meetings continued and the romance blossomed. Within a few months they were inseparable and obviously very much in love, much to the dismay of Henry’s family members.
‘I think they’re worried I might change my Will Molly’ he told her one day.
‘I thought it may be something like that. They are all polite but keep their distance. I see what you mean about the son-in-law by the way. He’s an accountant isn’t he?’
‘He is but he seems to be more interested in checking my bank account than his clients?’ he told her angrily.
‘Please assure them I am not after your money Henry. My pensions and savings are more than enough to keep me going and besides what would I do with it all at my age?’
‘You’re the youngest seventy year old I know Molly and definitely in working order as you once told me’ he grinned.
‘For god’s sake don’t mention that to your sons or I’ll be burnt at the stake as a witch or something?’
‘There would be no trouble with me looking after you if we were married?’
Molly was about to make a retort when she realised he was serious.
‘Good heavens! Are you seriously asking me to marry you?’ she asked astounded.
‘Better late than never Molly and we aren’t getting any younger like you say?’
He was right of course and why not?
‘You’re family will disown you Henry you know that?’
‘To hell with them’ he shouted happily ‘let’s fix a date?’
THE LETTER continued…..
Later in my leave, I went to Sheffield again but found John was staying. I don’t remember exactly how that ended except that I remember Molly seeing me off at the Station. I subsequently went back to Germany but didn’t see Molly again until years later in 1954 when I met her by chance with her husband and two children on a military train in Germany. I knew that Molly had married John because she had written to my mother in 1952, to tell her. I subsequently visited them in their married quarter near Bremen and we became friends. By now I was a commissioned and serving as a pilot at Oldenburg. Eventually they were posted back in England, in 1955 I think, and we lost touch. We were not to meet again for nearly 50 years.
Molly’s favourite nephew Michael had left the UK to live in Brittany with his French wife many years ago but she had visited the family on many occasions. He had discovered a talent for writing, eventually publishing his first novel.
She had suggested a trip to France with Henry and he had readily agreed. The wedding plans had been kept a secret but Michael was out of the way and she knew he wouldn’t spread gossip.
‘He sounds like a really nice man’ Michael told his wife.
It was a week before the visit when his sister in Sheffield telephoned.
‘I have just come off the telephone with Aunt Molly’ she told him ‘she’s in a bad way’
‘Why? What’s happening? Is she OK?’ he immediately asked.
‘Henry died this morning!’
The funeral was a week later but Molly wasn’t invited.
The family closed ranks and virtually shut her out.
Molly would take many months to get over the hurt and the loss and in many ways would not.
Her own family rallied around and did their best. Time would lessen the pain but she would never forgive his family for being treated like mercenary gold digger.
THE LETTER arrived at Michael’s home in France a week after the funeral. A family friend had been tasked with making sure it reached him but he had hesitated at the last minute unwilling to upset the family. Eventually his conscience and his high regard for his old friend overcome his hesitance and he duly posted it off.
Molly would never see it but how could he let the rest of the family know about the letter without naming names?
Figure it out!
Authors note: The Letter is real and has been reproduced word for word, but the names have been changed. (Henry) died suddenly, a week before the intended marriage date.